Given the Maple Leafs didn’t draft anybody until the 68th overall selection today, let’s start with the biggest news of Draft Day Two, which was the trade for Roman Polak in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th round draft pick.
Leafs management appear to be rejigging the structure of the defence a little bit with this move. It opens up the left side for developing youngsters Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner to step into top 4 spots if they’re up to it, although that leaves little in the way of insurance if Rielly experiences some sophomore bumps in the road or if Gardiner (who led the Leafs in ES ice time and appears to be in line to grab a top-pair spot from the get go) has another mixed season. Paul Ranger, if he’s brought back, and Tim Gleason, if he is as well, are options on the left side of the bottom pair.
On the right, as of today, it goes Dion Phaneuf, RFA Cody Franson, Roman Polak and Petter Granberg. Reading between the lines, it seems like the Leafs would like to add another right hander here who could play on the second pairing, which presumably would mean Franson is on the outs. It should be noted, though, that the latest word on Franson was that there is an interest in re-signing him, but one hopes management doesn’t think adding Polak, subtracting Gunnarsson and keeping the rest in tact is going to lead to any sort of meaningful improvement on the back end. It does seem like right-hander Dan Boyle may be a target here.
Claude Loiselle today mentioned the possibility of moving Phaneuf back to the left, in which case adding Dan Boyle might make that much more sense, and maybe the Leafs would to fill out their defence with something like Phaneuf – Boyle, Gardiner – Franson, Rielly – Polak. Getting their pairings lined up according to handedness appears to be a priority as the Leafs have identified it as one of the issues contributing to poor breakouts. Dion has always preferred the right, so how this would play out for him is a question mark.
While there is some logistical sense to the restructuring, the worrying part of the deal is that the Maple Leafs just aren’t a more skilled group on the back end with the subtraction of Gunnarsson and the addition of Polak, and it doesn’t seem to be a good value trade. Polak played soft competition, didn’t excel in terms of possession, and generally appears to be more of the bottom-pair, Tim Gleason vein than a meaningful solution to the Leafs’ defensive issues, although Polak is cheaper, tough, a decent skater and hopefully bears out as some form of a right-handed upgrade on Gleason.
While Gunnarsson and Phaneuf as a pairing were buried under the toughest defensive assignments in the league last season and didn’t perform particularly well with those minutes (because neither are Chris Pronger), Gunnarsson had previously held his own against tougher competition than Polak has played. He also contributes more in the offensive context (.28 career PPG vs. .18). Gunnarsson has always had a knack for controlling his gaps well and breaking up plays with a good stick, although – and perhaps the hip ailment had exacerbated these issues – he struggled at times to transition the puck up ice last season. The quiet, positionally sound reputation Gunnarsson carries was mostly warranted, but he certainly was over his head in the very daunting role he filled and struggled at times under forechecking pressure, not helped by a hip injury hurting the fluidity of his turns and pivots.
We’ll have to wait and see what the big picture is in terms of the backend before casting final judgment, but for now, when we add in that Nonis took a pick out of his scouts’ hands and retained a little salary to make this happen, the value just doesn’t jive for me. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea to try to fix the “mix” on defence — which did need addressing — and move out Gunnarsson for assets in the process, but Nonis may have been better off trying to fetch a younger player with some upside than a 28-year-old 5-6 D while giving up a pick and retaining some salary to acquire him.
The X factor might be how Gunnarsson responds to his hip procedure, which he has put off having for a few seasons now. If it continues to affect him, this might make more sense than it seems by the Leafs. He could also rebound and leave the Leafs looking silly. As always, time will tell.
Draft Wrap Up
2 Swedes, 1 Russian and 3 Americans split into five forwards and one defenceman was the 2014 draft haul for the Maple Leafs. The draft team, identifying the need for it in the system, definitely went for their share of offensive upside in this draft.
Click the names below for a profile on each new Leafs prospect including quotes from Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison. Morrison’s story on why their lone defenceman drafted, Russian Rinat Valiev, was passed over in 2013 is worth a read.
Maple Leafs 2014 Draft Selections
|Rnd||Pick||Overall||Team||Player||Pos||Country||Height||Weight||Amateur League||Amateur Team|
|1||8||8||TOR||WILLIAM NYLANDER||C/W||CAN||5' 11"||169||SWEDEN||MODO|
Committed to Boston College
|5||8||128||TOR||DAKOTA JOSHUA||C||USA||6'2"||185||USHL||Sioux Falls|
|6||8||158||TOR||NOLAN VESEY||LW||USA||6'1"||198||USPHL||South Shore
Committed to Maine
|7||8||188||TOR||PIERRE ENGVALL||W||SWE||6'4"||201||SuperElit||Frolunda J20|
Dave Nonis After Day 2:
Brendan Shanahan After Day 2:
Dave Poulin After Day 2:
Steve Staios After Day 2: